After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Genesis 15:1-12 (ESV)
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Philippians 3:17–4:1 (ESV)
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Luke 13:31-35 (ESV)
How do we know the promise is real? Especially when everything we see and feel and experience would imply that God’s promises are as empty as the promises of the world?
One can gather up a wealth of bad news just by cruising the Internet news for a few minutes here and there. The sky has been falling for a very long time…but might it just fall today? Jesus said we don’t know the day nor the hour (Matthew 24) of His return, but the end of days will come. It could be today, tomorrow or thousands of years from now. The timing is not for us to speculate on, but Jesus tells us there will be a final judgment, as well as God will remake the heavens and the earth. In Revelation 21:3-4 we learn in the new creation: that the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
The world tells us that we are making progress and getting better day by day, but the reality is that the world is dying and slowly decaying. The further human history gets away from the Fall, the weaker and further from God our society and the world at large becomes. Just look around for any length of time and this degradation and decay becomes clear to see. Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem and for those who would not believe in Him, understood the brokenness of the world that came after the Fall.
Science has a word for this process- entropy- which is the gradual but inevitable process of all matter returning to its elemental and basic state. The Biblical explanation of entropy is found in Ecclesiastes 3:20- “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”
The world can’t promise us anything that doesn’t fall under the universal fate of entropy. Everything the world can give us is eventually going to turn to dust. This world is not permanent.
Abram couldn’t help but to think God’s promise of offspring was a cruel joke. God promised him descendents that would outnumber the stars in the sky, yet Abram’s heir was some guy who wasn’t even a relative. Abram was old. His wife Sarai was barren and well past the age of fertility. Even so, he (Abram) believed the Lord, and he (God) counted it to him as righteousness.
Faith in God is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but it is not a blind trust, or a trust that abandons logic and never questions the obvious. It’s OK to ask the questions, “Why must I deal with chronic pain, or depression, or terminal illness?” When we pray the Psalms we see that the human condition is laid out in those prayers. The Psalmists cry out for repentance, they lament, they pour out their supplications, they beg for relief, and they long for solace, just like we do. The ancients had the same basic issues we have today.
The wisdom of the world says that we should live for instant gratification and that the highest aim is the pursuit of more and more stuff. We want the latest and greatest technology, the latest styles of clothes and shoes, and oh, how lovely it would be to have the adjustable bed. Stuff is not inherently bad, because material possessions are good gifts from God. The issue and the place where sin gets involved is when we value the gifts more highly than God, the Giver. We engage in idolatry (remember the First Commandment) when we think that we sustain ourselves by the pursuit of and the acquisition of stuff.
If we can ponder and understand the reality of our true citizenship being in heaven, and the temporary nature of material things, how does that change our perspective regarding life here on earth?
Jesus talked about laying up treasure in heaven – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20 (ESV)
This doesn’t mean we spend our lives trying to rack up brownie points, or hoarding up stuff, but that we live in response to the fact that we have life with Jesus. We are set free to live in a way that we can serve others in response to what God has done and is doing for us.
Jesus gave His life for us to save us from our sins, because we are powerless to save ourselves. He took the punishment of death we deserve so that we can have the treasure of eternal life with Him. So why would we set our hearts on temporary things?
It’s easy to lose sight of the promise. It’s easy to become so preoccupied with what we want here and now that we forget to value and practice the things that have lasting value such as the time we spend in worship, study and prayer, or the acts of love that we do for our neighbors.
It’s easy to get depressed when our health fails or we experience loss. We get sad when our friends move away or die, or when the world as we know it changes. We are readily susceptible to the distractions and the sin that would distance us from God, brought on by the weakness of our own flesh, the trials and expectations of this world, as well as Satan and the powers that serve him. Apart from the grace of God we are powerless against all of these things.
But by His grace, for the sake of Jesus, God gives us the strength to stand firm. Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Luke: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”Luke 6:46-49 (ESV)
Jesus is our foundation. We don’t have to get caught up in the worry and uncertainty that this world throws at us. We can have confidence and solace and peace even though we may be suffering now. The apostle Paul found comfort in Christ even as he was shipwrecked, stoned (with real stones…) starved, left to die, and thrown in prison. Hopefully none of us will suffer as Paul did, but we can take confidence in Paul’s words as he was writing to the church at Philippi:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him (Jesus) who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)
By faith, we, like Abraham, are children of God’s promise. Jesus was faithful in fulfilling God’s promise to us by giving Himself to take our punishment in our place. By faith, we trust that what God says is true and that Jesus is who He says He is. By His grace, through faith, we are citizens of heaven, set free to be content with the provision that God gives us, and to serve our neighbor out of response to God who has provided and does provide for us. (Abram) believed the Lord, and he (God) counted it to him as righteousness. This is our promise too.